Confession time… I have a thing for pears. And so while I’ve read many fabulous Aussie debut novels over Christmas, such as Graeme Simsion’s chuckle fest The Rosie Project, Hannah Kent’s finely wrought Burial Rites, and Courtney Collins’s captivating gothic work The Burial, I thought I’d skip reviewing these given the weight of press each has received, and write up some thoughts on the charming Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson. This is in part because Mr Wigg has a thing for pears too, although he also has a fancy for, let me see, just about every kind of fruiting tree you can think of, from apricots to nectarines, from persimmons to quinces. His speciality, though, is peaches.
Set in 1971, the story is split into the four seasons, starting with summer. The narrative voice has a whimsical storybook quality to it, partly because Mr Wigg is always referred to as ‘Mr Wigg’, and partly because he tells his grandchildren Lachlan and Fiona a fable about the mythical Peach King while the three of them bake, which, it has to be said, is often. I must admit, the voice took a bit of getting used to. Like its country setting, the story comes to you slowly, simply. But once I got used to the rhythm, it seemed perfect to me. It’s a bit like us city folk needing to adjust to a rural pace whenever we get out of the big smoke.
The whimsy comes in the form of the fruit trees, who talk to Mr Wigg and each other. Here’s some of the pears in action:
The pears had always been sensitive during spring, as they were not self-fertile, like the others, but required cross pollination. ‘It’s no laughing matter,’ Bon Chrétien muttered. Bickering like a long-married couple most of the year, the pears began dipping their branches at each other in early September. Beurré Bosc recited sonnets in that particular tone and Bon Chrétien responded with made up songs about the qualities of pear blossom.
Mr Wigg has his challenges. He lost his wife to cancer the previous year and is still coming to terms with the loss. His son wants him to consider moving into a old person’s home in town. And Mr Wigg is estranged from his daughter after a falling out over an inheritance. He knows he’s getting on, but he’s determined to die in his own home. He thus fights for his independence. To prove he’s not past it, in between baking sessions with the grandkids he takes on a creative project, firing up the forge in the shed with touching results that bring together Mr Wigg’s Peach King tale and his own life story. The ending is pitch-perfect.
Mr Wigg is a little gem. A story with heart. Reading it makes you want to plant an orchard, preserve some fruit, and get baking while the cricket is playing on the radio (Mr Wigg would be very proud of our Aussie boys thrashing the poms in the Ashes these past weeks!). It makes you thankful for the little things, the slow things, the moments between you and those you love. And being reminded of these things is never a bad thing.
To top it all off, I even learned a few new things about pears!
Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson
Source: the bookshelf rainbow (aka purchased)